What was the first thing you read that plain knocked you out of the chair? Do you remember? How old were you?
I was ten or so and reading Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I remember almost nothing of the book except for Huck and Tom masquerading as girls. I suppose that would spark a hundred or so letters to the NYT editors about gender-fluidity and such, but I’m pretty sure Twain said they were boys pretending to be girls. In fact, now that I write it, I wonder if that’s what gender-fluidity is? I’ll have to ask my daughters.
Anyway, someone suspected that Huck and Finn were boys and, to make sure, tossed something into their laps. The boys were caught when they nabbed the thing out of the air by clasping it between their legs. Girls, the narrator explained, catch things in their lap by spreading their dress open like a net. Boys do the opposite and catch with their legs like a claw.
I was agog for days. I couldn’t believe anyone could have such shrewd insight into the workings of any human being. I read it now and am still surprised. It’s one thing to me that separates writers: anyone can write purple prose and wax eloquent about waxing eloquent, but how many writers see that a girl in a dress catches things by spreading a fan? Or that my daughter wins a swimming competition by turning on her side and stretching at the end.
“Dad,” she says, always irritated. “Anyone knows that when you turn on your side, you can stretch half an inch longer.” Well, I’m anyone, and I didn’t know, but I do now.
How about you? Of course, you don’t know right now, but how many things do you miss each day? Fantastic things that anyone knows? How many times do you stop to really focus and observe?
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